The Vasquez and Wall's Campains

Six years after Santa Anna's defeat at San Jacinto, Mexico still refused to recognize the independence of Texas, and at least two military expeditions were made to capture the country.

In February, 1842, General Rafael Vasquez led a Mexican Army of some 400 men across the Rio Grande above Laredo. By the first week in March, the General had entered San Antonio. Vasquez held the town for only a few days, but a second column commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ramón Valera struck north across the river from Mier. Riding with 130 men, Valera took Goliad and Refugio.

In retaliation, 400 Texan volunteers assembled near Goliad for an expedition against Matamoros. Before the expedition could get underway, however, the Mexican expatriate Antonio Canales, who had now become a strong supporter of the central government, crossed the Rio Grande near Mier with an army of 539 men. Canales rode north to attack a camp of Texans in a bend of the Nueces River at Lipantitlán, north of present-day Banquete. After an indecisive battle, Canales retreated to the Rio Grande, claiming a great victory.

The Wall's invasions took place in San Antonio in September of 1842. It was led by a French soldier of fortune in the employ of the Mexican Army, General Adrian Woll. Commanding an estimated force of 1,400 men, he managed to slip into Texas from the northwest and in a surprise move he captured San Antonio.

At this time the district court was in session here. The judge, jury, clerk, lawyers, wit-nesses and some prominent citizens in attendance were taken prisoners. Totaling fifty-two persons in all, they were marched or taken to Mexico and imprisoned there.

After a counter attack on the Salado by Volunteer Texans under Colonel Matthews, Caldwell and a company of rangers under Captain Jack Hays, Woll began to retreat along the route he had come. But now, with the Texans in hot pursuit, Hays and his men formed the forward or advance scout unit.

Just before four o'clock in the afternoon on Thursday, September 22, 1842, the enemy was sighted on the east bank of the Hondo Creek. Woll convinced that an assault was imminent, attempted to assume a defensive position on the east side of the Hondo at a point where it makes a sharp bend to the west. He placed a four-pound field piece supported by infantry there. As his main army crossed the creek it re-formed on the flats to the west where second four-pound field piece was placed facing eastward and commanding the approach to the crossing and the battery on the opposite bank.

Hays halted his men to await the arrival the remainder of the Texas force. They soon began to arrive but came in scattered groups and disorganized squads due to the rapid pace of the march that day.

The Mexican commander, seeing that the Texans were not going to attack immediately, continued to move the remainder of his arm and the civilians who were accompanying him across the river.

After some hesitation, Colonel Caldwell permitted Hays to make an attempt to take the Mexican cannon on the east side of the creek and then to turn it upon the Mexican army beyond.

A call was made for volunteers to increase the size of the ranger company and a force of about fifty mounted men soon gather around the young but gallant Hays to make this desperate charge. Most of the men ha ridden into battle with him before and knew first hand of his courage and daring. At length the command came down the line to charge, and the mounted company went up a gradual ascent in quick time. In a moment the Mexican cannon roared out but overshot the Texans. Likewise, the Mexican infantry overshot the targets.

By the time the cannons fired their second rounds, shotguns and six-shooters were being used freely by the Texans. The men who manned the cannon either ran or were killed. Some of the Mexicans sought refuge under the cannon to avoid the fearful fire of the mounted rangers. It is said that one ranger, Kit Ackland, leaned from his saddle with pistol in hand and shot some of them between the spokes of the cannon wheels.

After the cannon had been taken it was turned around and brought to bear on the Mexicans. It could not be fired, however, because the powder wagons had already managed to reach the west hank of the Honda and without them the cannon was useless.

The rangers looked in vain for help from the rear and listened for the answering shouts to their wild yells. But this help did not come.

Reinforcements finally did start moving forward from their position and were about to ride to the aid of the beleaguered rangers when Colonel Caldwell rode up.

Seeing that Hays and his men were hopelessly outnumbered and in such a dangerously vulnerable position as to be a easily routed, he ordered the reinforcements back into line.

Even though the rangers had driven the Mexicans hack and had captured the battery, they nevertheless could not hold their position, being exposed as they were to a deadly fire from musketry and the cannon on west bank.

Shortly, the Mexican infantry advanced with grim determination. And, after holding the position for about ten minutes, H ordered a retreat. After darkness fell, firing ceased.

The Texans had only slight casualties none killed and five wounded. The Mexican army left thirty-three dead and thirteen wounded on the battlefield. An estimated forty more men died from wounds before reaching Mexico. Several of the Mexican baggage wagons and part of the am supplies were captured.

After setting out pickets around the Mexican camp, the Texans themselves encamped a short distance from the east bank of creek and made plans to resume the attack at daylight. But it was not to be.

During the night the scouts reported Mexican camp as being unusually quiet. Close inspection it was discovered that Mexicans - leaving their fires burning brightly had slipped away to the west and towards Mexico.

The Texans held a council and it decided to abandon the pursuit. Slowly volunteer companies scattered and returned to their respective homes, and Captain H and his company of rangers returned to their quarters at San Antonio.

(Editor's Note: The battle took place just off of and east of the Hondo-Tarpley R FM 462, about 7 miles north of Hondo and east of the Albert Saathoff residence there on the Hondo Creek. Since 1842 the route Gen. Woll took through the county has been called the Woll Road, mostly by the early survey. Another name used has been the Gen. Wool's Road, this because the U.S. Army Gen. John E. Wool also used the route on his march to Mexico during the Mexican War.)

By Jim Menke

Another Version of the Woll attack on San Antonio in 1842

In 1842 apprehension was spreading over the Republic due to the recent incursions into Texas by the Mexican Army. It brought about the authorization for Col. John H. Moore of the settlements on the Colorado to enlist 200 volunteers for the protection of the frontier.

Col. James B. Cook also began raising men in Washington County. The situation seemed to ease for a time, but a much more serious threat from the Rio Grande was in the making.

In this state of affairs, then, it seems passing strange that the Brigadier Adrian Woll, a Frenchman in the Mexican service, in the last days of August, 1842, was able to cross nearly a thousand men, 919 horses, 213 mules, a supply train and an artillery train, from the Presidio del Rio Grande on a trail just north of the Camino Real, and bring it almost to the outskirts of San Antonio before any alarm was given.

San Antonio was still somewhat clear of the families of the Anglo settlers from the spring raid by Rafael Vasquez, except that district court had been called into session and a considerable number of lawyers and officials had returned. District Judge Anderson Hutchinson was presiding, and the case that went to trial on Sept. 5 involved a 50-peso fee that had been pledged to Dr. Shields Booker, one of the surgeons at San Jacinto. by former Mayor Juan N. Seguin for treatment of a patient. Former Mayor Seguin at this time had already forsaken his Texian citizen-ship and gone over to the Mexicans. The attorney representing Dr. Booker was Samuel A. Maverick.

Near midnight on Friday, Sept. 9, a loyal Mexican warned Mayor John W. Smith of the close approach of at least 1,500 Mexican soldiers The Texians assembled shortly thereafter, and spent most of the following day organizing and making plans

for some sort of defense. A good many of them, however, were of the opinion that the intelligence was false.

General Woll got his troops in place in a tight circle around San Antonio on the night of the 10th, and at 4:30 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, the 11th, moved on into town. The Texians were ready for them on Main Plaza, and there was a brisk little fight, with some of Woll’s artillery being brought into play. A number of Mexicans were killed and wounded, with no loss to the Texians.

Woll sent a white flag forward to explain to the defenders that they were faced by an overwhelming force, and the Texians agreed to surrender as prisoners of war. There were 62 of them, with eight, including Mayor Smith, escaping in the fog and confusion of the early morning. James W. Robinson of the Lavaca, a former judge of the Fourth District, was among those captured, along with Judge Hutchinson, and for 18 months thereafter there was no civil government in San Antonio. All of the prisoners were shortly sent forward to the Rio Grande under heavy escort.

The news of this new invasion spread quickly, and Victoria became one of the points of rendezvous for the gathering Texians. The usual alarms were coming into town from across the Guadalupe, and on Sept. 16 word arrived that a force of a thousand Mexicans or more was due at Carlos Rancho on the San Antonio River any moment.

Fortunately, there had been heavy rainfall all during September, and the streams, including the Guadalupe, were in high water. As a matter of fact, Gen. Pedro Ampudia from Matamoros had sent 500 men to join Woll but this force found itself bogged down and unable to move. It was generally conceded that the floods had saved Victoria. But families were pulling out of the Victoria area as the weather would allow, and the town remained in a state of siege.

Col. Clark L. Owen had 150 men assembled in Victoria by Sept. 20, and looked for reinforcements of up to 250 within a day or two. In squads, platoons and companies, the men of the frontier were coming together and preparing to march on Bexar.

Matthew (Old Paint) Caldwell from Gonzales, a renowned defender against Indians and Mexicans, by common consent had assumed command and set up his point of rendezvous on the Cibolo Creek within 20 miles of San Antonio. Caldwell had return-ed home only in August from a term of imprisonment in Mexico as one of those captured in Mirabeau B. Lamar’s disastrous Santa Fe expedition. On the Cibolo, Caldwell waited for accurate in-formation on Mexican movements from a spy company which included Capt. Jack Hays, Ben McCulloch, Henry E. McCulloch, William A. (Bigfoot) Wallace and others.

Captains elected by their men included Ewen Cameron with his 40 cowboys from Victoria, Daniel B. Friar of Cuero Creek with 35 men, James Bird of Gonzales with 60 men, Adam Zumwalt and young John Henry Brown with 25 from the Lavaca.

Old Paint Caidwell shortly moved up to Salado Creek, almost on the outskirts of San Antonio, and laid his battle plan. The Hays company of scouts were sent toward town to draw out Woll’s people, and the maneuver worked as planned.

Nearly all of Woll’s forces were shortly engaged against the Texians in a battle which raged along the Salado all day on Sept. 18. Only one Texian was killed in this phase of the battle.

But late in the afternoon Capt. Nicholas Mosby Dawson came on the scene with 52 men from La Grange, unaware of Caidwell’s exact position and unable to reach him. Dawson’s men were hidden from the view of Caidwell’s people as they came up, but were detected by Mexican cavalry patrols who shortly brought reinforcements to ride down the whole of the little command. Nicholas Dawson died with 36 of his men, 15 were captured, and but two escaped.

Aside from the Dawson massacre, Woll took enough of a beating at the Salado to cause his immediate retreat from San Antonio, losing more than 100 killed and some 150 wounded.

Flis withdrawal commenced on the morning of Sept. 20, and it included some 200 Mexican families from San Antonio who concluded they could not risk their safety to the oncoming

Texians With 325 men, short of ammunition and supplies, a council called by Caidwell voted nevertheless to set out in pursuit. The Texians harassed Woll’s badly demoralized forces as far as Hondo Creek, but indecision of command and lack of coordination caused

their pursuit to be classified as a failure. Woll limped back into the Presidio del Rio Grande with the remark that "there was no cause for rejoicing in this instance, for his army had gained no credit in the campaign in Texas."

Worn out, hungry and saddle-sore, the Texians in the main returned to their homes. The shadow of bitter criticism on the failure of the pursuit overhung Matthew Caidwell—it may, in fact, have contributed to his death at his home in Gonzales on Dec. 28, 1842, at the age of 43.

The terror and the turmoil of abandoned homes and dislocated populations caused by the successive invasions of Vasquez and Woll spread like a blight from west to east across the Republic of Texas. This proof of the vulernability of the Texas frontier, often exaggerated, began influencing attitudes in the United States toward Texas, arousing much apprehension about the stability of the little Republic.

Indignation among the settlements on the frontier against the policies of Sam Houston continued to mount, and it became more and more evident to the hero of San Jacinto that decisive action was needed to quell the tide. Victoria was one of the centers of protests and indignation meetings.

President Houston decided that a full-scale expedition in the direction of the Rio Grande was the answer. Accordingly, he instructed Vice President Edward Burleson, whose name meant much to the frontier, to begin preparations, calling up the organized militia and beating for volunteers, even from the United States.

But Edward Burleson was not the man placed in command. The man chosen was Brig. Gen. Alexander Somervell, who was called from his job as collector of customs at Matagorda to proceed to the west and assume over-all command of the troops as they assembled. Somervell was not a popular selection with the western counties.

Sam Houston’s instructions to Somervell included the following:

"You will receive no troops, but such as will march across the Rio Grande under your orders if required by you to do so. If you cross the Rio Grande, you must suffer no surprise, but be always on the alert . . . You will be controlled by the rules of the most civilized warfare, and you will find the advantage of exercising great humanity towards the common people. In battle let the enemy feel the fierceness of just resentment and retribution."

Whatever General Somervell’s feelings might have been, the western settlements were feeling sufficiently fierce to lend their full support to the expedition in men, horses, equipment, money and supplies. By the time Somervell arrived in San Antonio on Nov. 4, 1842, he found 1,200 volunteers and drafted men on hand, including some recruits from Louisiana and Arkansas.

The resulting recruiting eventually led to the reprisal attack on the Mexican borderTown of Guerrero by some 760 Texans which they took with little resitance. There was confusion in the command and after many of the troops had departed for home, some more adventuoros men wanted to continue the battle by taking the Mexican town of Mier.

This was done too with out much oppostion but in short order the troops were soon captured by a larger Mexican force of 2000.

The so called Mier expidition is probably the low point in Texas History as some of the men were eventually marched to Mexico City and many executed before they were released in 1844.

Excerpt from 300 Years in Victoria County

Historical Survey--A Shared Experience--2nd Texas-Mexican War
Map of the Battle of Salado

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William Alexander Hesskew

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Revised: October 25, 1999.